Making significant changes in your organization isn’t as scary as you think

In many workplace environments—and especially in larger organizations such as hospitals—implementing change is difficult. The “we’ve-always-done-it-this-way” mentality is tough to overcome, especially when you have so many different people in different departments working together.

Managers are often tempted to implement incremental change, with the thinking that slowly easing employees into a new process is easier than completely overhauling a system. But many management experts agree that today’s marketplace forces organizations to embrace radical change if they want to survive.

“Incremental change was fine decades ago when there was more stability, but things change too quickly today for a slow approach,” says Robert Tanner, president of Las Vegas-based Business Consulting Solutions and creator of the blog “If slow change is your primary way of responding to the market, then your organization will quickly become obsolete.”

Responding to a Changing Marketplace

Tanner says that significant changes are more effective than incremental ones because of the forces businesses face today. Rapid technological advances as well as merging demographic groups make it impossible for any organization to rely only on what has worked in the past.

“Generational changes are a real challenge,” Tanner says. “Power is shifting from Baby Boomers as Generation X and Generation Y employees come into the workplace. These groups have different values and perspectives about work, and they must be managed differently.”

Not only are changing generational demographics an internal challenge for managers, but they must be considered from a customer and patient standpoint as well. “When people have different perspectives, it creates challenges for how hospitals deliver their services,” he says.

Hospitals must be willing to constantly reevaluate what they’re doing to fulfill different perspectives—both internally and externally.

And, Tanner says, it needs to happen quickly.

He gives the example of Apple and Facebook, two very well-known businesses that are constantly reinventing their products and services. Even though they’re highly successful, they don’t rest on their laurels, continuing to look for ways to be financial and cultural leaders.

How can your facility continue to stay relevant? By embracing what makes many people uncomfortable: change.

Easing Transitions

Change doesn’t have to be a scary word. In fact, Tanner often doesn’t even use the word at all. “‘Radical change’ almost sounds like fighting words,” he says. Instead, concepts like “significant realignment” are more palatable to employees. “Basically you’re looking at doing things fundamentally differently than the way they’ve been done before.”

How you manage the change process is crucial to its success. “When change is mishandled it’s a very frustrating experience for everyone,” he says. “You shouldn’t embark on a significant change effort unless you’re determined to do it right.”

Tanner recommends following these five steps for managing the change process:

1. Get everyone on the same page. Failure is certain if leaders haven’t prepared an organization for change. “You must work first at creating a culture where change is accepted,” Tanner says. Then identify your goals and the best way to achieve them.

2. Create a sense of urgency. Significant change can’t be drawn out. It needs to happen quickly or else the process feels too incremental. To get employees on board with the idea, talk openly about why the change is happening and what opportunities the organization faces. Tanner also advocates being honest (especially when it’s not good news) about problems to explain the serious—and urgent—need for change.

3. Communicate the benefits. “There’s a misstatement that people don’t like change,” Tanner says. “We actually love change that’s in our best interest. If your manager comes to you and says ‘I’m going to give you a raise or time off,’ you’d love that change because it’s a benefit. We don’t like change when we feel like it’s going to make our position worse.”

Showing how the change helps the bottom line is good. But showing how it helps an individual is even better.

“People resist change that’s imposed based only on a person’s title,” Tanner says. But if you explain how the change benefits them, they become loyal to the cause.

And, Tanner, says, effective managers continue reminding employees about the benefits long after the change begins. Use several different methods to reach your staff—emails, intra-office meetings and one-on-one discussions.

“Everyone listens to any message with the idea of, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ” Tanner says. “If you can’t tell people internally and externally why it’s in their best interest to change, then you’re not going to be successful.”

4. Create short-term victories. After the initiative starts, managers should reward employees for consistent efforts. “No one likes traveling through the desert and never seeing an oasis,” Tanner says. Celebrate progress by setting small, attainable goals along the way to the significant restructuring.

5. Choose the right tools. Even though radical change is crucial to an organization’s long-term success, Tanner cautions that it is possible to overdo it. Some managers like to embark on significant restructuring on a regular basis. But a working environment in a constant state of radical change is exhausting for employees. “You don’t need a sledgehammer for every remodeling project,” Tanner says.

Sometimes small tweaks are all it takes to fix a problem.

“Organizations should always be doing continual process improvements,” Tanner says. “But heavy tools should only be brought out in response to real-world issues in the marketplace, customer demands, legal compliances and technology.”

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